These distress signal devices can be life-saving rescue tools, but...
The power of nature can be a great and terrible force, whether it's manifested through hurricanes, tornados, lightning strikes, earthquakes, or any other natural disaster. Volcanic eruptions are just one more to add to the list… but not for the reasons you might think.
Sure, volcanoes can spew choking ash, poisonous gas, and red-hot lava—most of us know about these dangers already. However, most of the general public isn't as familiar with the dangers posed by submarine or underwater volcanoes. Even if they're not erupting, they can produce pockets of bubbles under the surface that reduce the water's density and can even sink ships.
The illustration above from The Daily Mail shows how the process happens. Looking out across the surface of the water, nothing may appear wrong, but tiny bubbles can cause ships to lose buoyancy with little warning. Imagine sailing along, and then watching as the deck of your ship falls through the surface of the water—it's a pretty horrifying thought.
Now, you may be thinking this is science fiction or some sort of Bermuda Triangle myth, but it's actually a real phenomenon. In 1952, Japanese research vessel Kaiyo Maru No. 5 sank while investigating an undersea volcano, killing all 31 crew members.
There's also strong suspicion the underwater volcano Kick 'em Jenny (yes, we know, it's a strange name for a volcano) sank the Island Queen in 1944, killing all 67 people on board. No debris was ever found on the surface, indicating that the ship sank without a trace. Even today, there's a maritime exclusion zone that diverts ships around the Kick 'em Jenny volcano due to the danger.
In 2006, sailors aboard the yacht Maiken came across a huge patch of sandy material in the South Pacific near the Vava'u Islands. At first, they thought it was a sandbar, but as they got closer, it turned out to be floating pumice stone, spanning as far as the eye could see. They sailed through this patch of stone, wondering what caused it.
Shortly after reaching the other side of the pumice “sandbar”, a massive volcanic eruption broke the surface behind them. The Maiken had sailed over an active volcano, miraculously not hitting a gas pocket or sustaining any damage. You can view the rest of the Maiken's photos here.
Although submarine volcanoes can be unpredictable, the safest option is to avoid marked maritime exclusion zones—and don't let your curiosity about strange phenomenon at sea lead you into danger.
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